Report for think tank talk: The uberisation of the labour market

25 Feb 2017 01:00h

Event report

This luncheon discussion, organised by the Think Tank Hub, addressed the current changes in the labour market driven by the fourth industrial revolution. The topic was presented by guest speaker Jan Smit, a Partner of the Centre for Strategy & Evaluation Services, which recently published the report ‘Industry 4.0’ for the European Parliament.

Smit first addressed the phenomenon of ‘uberisation’, both as a narrow phenomenon affecting the transportation sector and as a broad trend visible in other sectors such as as journalism, tourism, finance, delivery services – with important consequences for society at large. This trend is put into motion by developments in technology, which could be presented as ‘Industry 4.0’. While the fourth industrial revolution is often either presented as an opportunity for increased productivity or in relation to IT security, Smit focused on its consequences on work and labour. He addressed the following issues:

  1. To realise the potential of industry 4.0, a large number of people with a background in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM) are needed. European countries might not be able to address the shortage of IT engineers among their own population, and will need to attract candidates from other parts of the world.
  2. The centres that will be established around industry 4.0 will be increasingly specialised and spatially concentrated, away from the periphery, which might lead to increased inequality.
  3. Immigration needed for an industry 4.0 workforce is challenged by current European attitudes and perceptions of immigrants.
  4. There is a need for a new education programme to generate the range of skills (IT and others) required to take full advantage of industry 4.0.
  5. Automation will make certain jobs redundant, which will have an important impact on social security.
  6. Small businesses often do not have the resources to engage with industry 4.0 and are therefore challenged by services that are offered directly to the consumer.

These issues generate policy challenges for governments, as they can ultimately affect the ‘tenants of the world order’.

The Q&A session addressed a wide range of related topics, including the possibility of increased polarisation and inequality between developed and developing countries, and the question of whether these challenges are inherently new, or whether they are old challenges in a new context. Wider topics were also addressed, such as Internet governance, data protection, and the potential effects of artificial intelligence.